Meet The Researcher

Ms Natalie King

Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania

About
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
I like to sing while I do cell culture.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I have only just begun my MS research journey. As part of the MS Research Flagship at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, I work closely with people with MS, and I am learning more about MS every-day. I have always been fascinated by the brain and have been studying disorders of the brain for several years now. Unlike many diseases that cause neurodegeneration, MS is a disease that can begin at a young age. That means that a person who is diagnosed can spend more of their life with MS than without it. The success of past MS researchers in developing the treatments that are now available is very inspiring. But there is a lot more to be done to develop treatments that can improve brain health!
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
For me I think the most exciting development so far has been the recent genetic studies which show that MS is not just a disease of the immune system. This is very important information as it gives us more targets, including targets in the brain itself, that could help us treat MS in a different way that could reduce progression.
Tell us about your current research project
In people with MS, the coating that insulates nerves is attacked by the immune system. This is made by oligodendrocytes and can be repaired by recruiting immature cells in the brain known as progenitor cells (OPCs) to make the new oligodendrocytes. However, in people with MS, OPCs stop being able to repair and we don’t understand why. It has recently been discovered that OPCs can sculpt brain connections, and OPCs do this by ‘eating’ the connection points between two nerve cells. This process is important in ensuring that the right nerves connect with each other at the right place. However, it is possible that OPCs that are ‘eating’ are unable to go back to making oligodendrocytes to replace. The goal of this project is to identify if OPCs that eat, can also produce new oligodendrocytes. We also aim to identify the signals that control this.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
Our research is important as we may discover what stops myelin repair in MS and identify a new way to direct OPCs towards myelin repair in MS. This could give us a new target for therapies aiding remyelination in the future!
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
Working in the lab is exciting, probably the best feeling is when you run an experiment where you get to see for the first time something that no-one else in the whole world has ever seen before. There are always challenges in the lab, researchers can spend years working very hard on projects with very little progress, but this is what makes the work even more rewarding when our experiments do work.
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Ms Natalie King